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Zimbabwe Lawyers Group Urges Action After US Journalist Deported - 2003-05-20


The Zimbabwe group Lawyers for Human Rights has called on the courts to jail government officials who illegally deported American journalist Andrew Meldrum last Friday. The lawyers group said Mr. Meldrum's deportation violated three court orders.

Lawyers for Human Rights said the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Immigration are in blatant contempt of court for intentionally and illegally deporting the British Guardian newspaper's Zimbabwe correspondent.

It names the civil servants who it says knew they were acting unlawfully when they forced Mr. Meldrum onto a London-bound Air Zimbabwe plane on Friday. It calls on the courts to jail them for ignoring the laws.

Lawyers for Human Rights says South African Airways and Zambia Airways had earlier refused to accept Mr. Meldrum as a passenger because of the court orders.

The immigration department first tried to deport Mr. Meldrum 10 months ago after he was acquitted of breaching a part of a controversial media law, which has since been struck down.

Last week Mr. Meldrum had his passport seized and his residence permit canceled. Two days later the Department of Immigration issued him with a new deportation order.

Within two hours, Mr. Meldrum's lawyers secured a court order requiring the authorities to bring him to court for a hearing, rather than deport him.

The authorities failed to obey the order. Then shortly before the Air Zimbabwe plane was due to take off, and nine hours after Mr. Meldrum had been violently shoved into a police vehicle in Central Harare, the judge issued another order preventing his deportation.

Lawyers for Human Rights say a senior court official failed in her legal obligation to obey the judge's order and travel to the airport to serve the order on immigration officials.

The government has not commented on the deportation, and several ministries declined to comment Tuesday on the allegations by Lawyers for Human Rights.

The group said police officers and government officials regularly violate court orders. It said that subverts the rule of law and makes it impossible for lawyers and the courts to protect people. Many large Zimbabwe law firms agree.

Mr. Meldrum's lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa said Tuesday she has prepared papers to serve on the High Court to enable him to return to Zimbabwe to fight his deportation.

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